Legislature(1999 - 2000)
04/29/1999 08:07 AM STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 192-PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS CHAIR JAMES announced the first item on the agenda is HB 192, "An Act relating to reciting the pledge of allegiance by public school students." Number 018 RICHARD SCHMITZ, Staff to Representative James, explained HB 192 amends the existing state flag statute to include the requirement that the Pledge of Allegiance be offered in the public schools on a regular basis. REPRESENTATIVE SMALLEY cited that the Pledge of Allegiance is an every-morning activity in the Kenai Peninsula School District and that the staff members are encouraged to conduct different assignments because reciting the pledge becomes rote and has little meaning until it is discussed. MR. SCHMITZ said HB 192 would also standardize the state. He mentioned Anchorage and Fairbanks students are required to give the Pledge of Allegiance and that the Aleutian East School District recently instituted a pledge policy which they found to be very successful. Number 077 REPRESENTATIVE SMALLEY emphasized that students who do not participate, due to a religious belief or other, should not be identified and ridiculed. MR. SCHMITZ referred to page 1, lines 9 and 10, "or maintain a respectful silence," and noted it would be an option. REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA pointed out that supreme court cases recognized the religious rights not to pledge and that you don't even necessarily need to be respectful. Furthermore, a person can dissent from the pledge if he or she wants to remain silent. Representative Kerttula asked, "Have you thought about taking out the word 'respectful' and have it just be 'maintaining silence' because that word might connotate a little bit greater meaning than actually the courts have recognized." Her second point was it may include teachers and suggested changing the language to "anyone or any person." Number 115 CHAIR JAMES said she doesn't believe there is anything wrong with the word "respectful" and indicated that she would rather go to the supreme court rather than to remove the word "respectful." REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA emphasized that there could be real problems with the bill without the two constitutional points. CHAIR JAMES believes people should be treated with fairness and respect and she recognizes anyone's rights that are listed in the Bill of Rights. REPRESENTATIVE OGAN hoped people are respectful when saying the pledge in honor to those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our flag. He added that being respectful is appropriate. REPRESENTATIVE WHITAKER said he is glad the word is in the legislation. Number 182 REPRESENTATIVE SMALLEY asked, what about the courts and the determination of "students may" to say "any person may." He stressed the point that staff is generally protected by agreements but volunteers are not. CHAIR JAMES said she doesn't think it changes the teacher's rights, but we'll take that into consideration. Number 237 DENNY WEATHERS, testified in support of HB 192, via teleconference from Cordova stating respect should be included for all of them (teachers, students, and volunteers) and read the following testimony: I think this bill is very important to Alaska and the future of America. Many adolescents and adults I talk with cannot recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Children in Alaska's public schools are being taught that America is a democracy even though the Constitution of the United States of American ... and the Alaska Statehood Act ... guarantees every state in the Union a republican form of government and the Pledge of Allegiance reinforces "to the republic for which it stands." [She explained the history of the American flag]. I support and will defend HB 192 as I will the flag of the United States of America which will be 222 years old on June 14, 1999 and I will continue to pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands as Americans have been doing for the past 106 years and would hope others would too. Number 314 CAROL NILSON testified in support of HB 192 via teleconference from Fairbanks. She said she supports the following text: United States and Alaska flags shall be displayed of upon or near each principal school building during school hours and at other times the governing body considers proper. The governing body shall require that an appropriate flag exercise be held regularly in each classroom, at school assemblies, and, if feasible, at interscholastic events. MS. NILSON also supports the choice of maintaining a respectful silence. If passed, she believes the bill's action may help to bring a more patriotic attitude toward our country. Number 355 DARROLL HARGRAVES, Executive Director, Alaska Council of School Administrators, appeared before the committee noting that he is speaking for himself because his membership hasn't informed him of what their position is. He told the members when he was a teacher the children learned and memorized the Pledge of Allegiance and it's saddening to find junior and senior students today who have not. He said he cannot understand what's wrong with the Pledge of Allegiance in a classroom because we recite it at sporting events and we hear it in the chambers of the legislature. He also mentioned the students are meant to feel okay about removing themselves from the classroom and from that activity and believes no harm is being done to those individuals. MR. HARGRAVES said he believes there is a provision which allows flags to be displayed in the classroom, furthermore HB 192 adds that flags will be displayed around the buildings. He concluded, "But the sad thing is that because of a rebellious nature on the part of some staff, I'm afraid in public schools, in recent decades, they will not put those flags up in the classroom. So we have a situation where I think it's okay to call attention to the need of the flag in the classroom, and I think there's a need to teach children the Pledge of Allegiance." Mr. Hargraves commended Chair James for introducing HB 192 and stated, without polling his membership, he believes the vast majority of Alaska Council of School Administrators will support the Pledge of Allegiance in the classroom. Number 417 CHAIR JAMES explained HB 192 doesn't require that a flag be in the classroom, however the new language states, "The governing body shall require that an appropriate flag exercise be held regularly in each classroom," and they can't do that without a flag. MR. HARGRAVES mentioned one of the first things he did when he was a superintendent was he bought enough flags to put in every classroom. REPRESENTATIVE OGAN indicated he heard rumors that some people in the U.S. do not want to pledge allegiance due to the reference of, "One Nation Under God." He asked Mr. Hargraves if that's a problem in Alaska. MR. HARGRAVES replied, not in Alaska, unless a person doesn't believe in God. REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA mentioned the "Jehovah's Witness" is one of the dissenting groups because they do not pledge to anything, therefore, the supreme court allowed them not to say the pledge. Number 464 REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA offered Amendment 1 which changes the title,"by public school students," to: An Act relating to reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools. Line 9, Delete: Students Insert: Any person REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA explained that, "Any person," clarifies that if staff, or teachers' aids were in the classroom they would recognize that they too had a right to leave or remain silent. She emphasized that if that isn't included, it might add confusion over whether it was just a student's right or everyone's right. REPRESENTATIVE OGAN asked if a teacher refuses to participate, will they have to bring someone in to lead the class in the pledge. REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA replied she supposed so since it's their constitutional right, however someone could come in or a student could lead the pledge if they wanted to. Number 489 REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL objected to the amendment because if a staff person felt strongly about it he or she could be excused or stand silently as a student might. CHAIR JAMES mentioned Representative Hudson had arrived. REPRESENTATIVE SMALLEY supports Amendment 1 because it encompasses not just the students but mostly anybody within the building and that the pledge has been recited by his students on a voluntary basis. He also noted that it is broadcast over the public system in many schools and that it is an encouraging lesson for elementary students to volunteer to lead the class. REPRESENTATIVE OGAN said he opposes the amendment because it's a constitutional right, and if we address it specifically, it doesn't change that right. Number 536 CHAIR JAMES said she is troubled with changing the language because the emphasis is for students and it has nothing to do with teachers and volunteers or other folks because their rights are still there. REPRESENTATIVE HUDSON doesn't believe there is that problem because HB 192 does not state that the teacher or that any student has to cite the pledge, it simply states that the governing body (probably the superintendent or the principal) has to make it available. REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA explained that if this were to become law, only the body of the text would be in the statute and everyone won't have the benefit of hearing this discussion to understand that it was only directed to students. She also noted that the title of the bill won't be seen to recognize that it was aimed just at students, therefore, it will be confusing to people. REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA said people are allowed to do, district by district, what they do. She further stated, "I don't see the problem, I don't see why we need the bill but if we do need the bill and we want to make a statement, I think we should at least be clear that this is everyone's right not to do this - and I do think it will result in some confusion. So just to try to maintain the constitutionality, I think it would be better to have it be any person. I thought about what the sponsor just said about wanting to be sure we have public school students in the title, you could say something like, 'Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance by public school students and in public schools,' because especially for instance if we're doing it at interscholastic events you're probably going to have parents and other people around as well. So that's why I'm offering the amendment, it's just for the sake of clarity since this is something new for us." Number 610 CHAIR JAMES pointed out that HB 192 was prompted by young students whose teachers told them the Pledge of Allegiance is not a good thing. She then requested a roll call vote on the amendment. Upon a second roll call vote, Representatives Smalley, Kerttula and Whitaker voted in favor of adopting proposed Amendment 1 and Representatives Hudson, Ogan, Coghill and James voted against it. Therefore, Amendment 1 failed by a vote of 3-4. Number 669 REPRESENTATIVE HUDSON moved to report HB 192 out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying zero fiscal note. There being no objection, it was so ordered.